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Saving Davies’ waxflower

Phebalium daviesii. Photo: James Wood
Phebalium daviesii
Photo: James Wood

Davies’ waxflower (Phebalium daviesii) was believed to be extinct until rediscovery in 1990. With the wild population currently in decline, Tasmania’s SeedSafe is on a mission to conserve this shrub.

Davies’ waxflower (Phebalium daviesii) is slender shrub, found only on Tasmania's north-east coast. Known from only three collections made around the St. Helens area in the late 1800s, it was believed to be extinct until 1990, when 55 plants were rediscovered on the Georges River.

Recognised and listed as critically endangered in the wild, the population was visited to collect cutting material in 1995. The cuttings were passed on to the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens Nursery, which established 26 individuals. In the past 15 years, erosion from flooding and storm damage has reduced the wild population to less than 20 individual plants.

Despite the relative success of the Davies’ waxflower propagation at the Gardens Nursery, reintroduction of the shrub to the wild has not fared so well. In 2008, staff decided to collect seed from the nursery plants, to secure the genetic diversity held by that population, and to allow research into reintroduction potential using seed.

SeedSafe workers enclosed the nursery plants in hessian bags after flowering, and harvested 34,500 high-quality seeds in 2009. They have now begun germination trials to determine the Davies’ waxflower germination requirements. Although the seeds are highly dormant, initial tests are meeting with partial success, and SeedSafe hopes to solve the secrets of this shrub's germination requirements by 2012. They will then trial various techniques to establish seedlings in the wild.